Football Christianity

Tim Tebow is back in the news after being cut from the New England Patriots. When he was with the Denver Broncos, Tebow made a name for himself (and added his name to the dictionary) with his flamboyant public appreciation whenever God helped him out with a football play.

The interesting thing about his kneeling in praise is that it’s self-aggrandizing while pretending not to be. It was precisely anticipated in Matthew: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others” (Matt. 6:5). Jesus makes clear that they’ve received their reward here on earth and don’t get bonus points from heaven.

Mr. Tebow, are we to imagine that the Creator of the universe took time out of his busy schedule of not saving starving children to help you make a good football play? I understand that it’s important to you, and it’s nice to see a professional athlete not bragging about how great he is, but doesn’t football seem a little trivial? Doesn’t it make your religion look bad to even suggest that? And doesn’t it seem illogical to imagine God being yanked first one way by you and then in the opposite way by some dude praying for the opposite result on the other team?

But I’m probably too harsh. Let me applaud something else that Tebow does.

He’s known for evangelizing through Bible verses painted in the eye black on his face. Above, he’s proclaiming Ephesians 2:8–10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

That’s good advice. But Tebow has promoted a variety of verses, not just the standard John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world …”) or Luke 2:10–11 (“I bring you good news of great joy …”). He not afraid to say what needs to be said.

Here he gives us Exodus 22:29, which says, “Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. You must give me the firstborn of your sons.” God’s demand of child sacrifice is often forgotten, but it’s good to be reminded of the basics.

Other verses that show how God used child sacrifice within Israel are Ez. 20:25–6.

Of course, the size constraints of eye black make Twitter look like an encyclopedia, but these messages are worth reading. This one is a nice reminder of God’s limitations. 2 Kings 3:26–27 tells of the end of a battle against Moab. The prophet Elisha promised Judah a victory. But when the king of Moab saw that he was losing, he sacrificed his son and future heir. This magic was apparently too much for Yahweh, because “there was an outburst of divine anger against Israel, so they broke off the attack and returned to their homeland.” (I write more here.)

A verse with a similar message is Judges 1:19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.”

Another oldie but goodie. Psalms 89:7 says “In the council of the holy ones Elohim [God] is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.” How often do we forget that God is part of an Olympus-like pantheon? Ps. 82:1–2 gives a similar message.

I’m waiting for someone to reference Deuteronomy 32:8, which describes how Yahweh’s dad divided up his inheritance (all the tribes of the earth) among his sons: “When El Elyon [the Most High] gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided up humankind, he set the boundaries of the peoples, according to the number of the heavenly assembly.”

You rarely see an entire chapter reference, but Leviticus 20 is a meaty one with a lot of good fundamentals. Everyone knows that homosexual relations are abominable, and verse 13 gives the death as the appropriate penalty. But it’s easy to forget the other demands of this chapter: eat no unclean animals (:25), exile any couple that has sex during the woman’s menstrual period (:18), death to spiritual mediums (:27), death for adultery (:10), and death for “anyone who curses their father or mother” (:9). It comes as a package, people!

Eye black references to divine genocide are common. Who hasn’t seen a football player displaying 1 Samuel 15:2–3, Deut. 20:16–18, or Judges 21:10? But it’s nice to see this one. Deuteronomy 2:34–5 says, “And we took all [Sihon’s] cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain.”

I’ll skim through a few more that I’ve seen. Why aren’t more sermons taught on these verses?

  • In our modern unbiblical and slavery-free society, we too often forget that not only did God permit slavery, but he regulated it. Exodus 21:20–21 says, “And if a man smite his slave with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. But if [the slave] live for a day or two, he shall not be punished, for [the slave] is his property.”
  • I guess with football players you’ll find lots of verses about violence. Isaiah 13:15–16 is a popular one: “Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.” Another that’s so common as to almost be cliché is Ps. 137:9: “Happy is the one who seizes your [Babylon’s] infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
  • It’s not surprising that sexual slavery interests football players. Numbers 31:15–18 says, “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
  • I like to see reminders for racial purity. Ezra 9:2 says, “They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them.” Other verses in this vein are Nehemiah 13:1–3 and Deut. 23:3.
  • Finally, a helpful reminder that even Jesus can be wrong: “There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). Two thousand years later, and we’re still waiting. Ah well, we all make mistakes!

I think of these as the Forgotten Verses, and I praise athletes like Tebow for putting them front and center where they belong. It’d be great to get them back into circulation by making them the subject of sermons. After all, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

(If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the SNL skit where Jesus visits Tim Tebow.)

Men occasionally stumble over the truth,
but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off
as if nothing had happened.
— Winston Churchill

(This is a modified version of a post that originally appeared 1/9/12.)

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  • RichardSRussell

    Bob, I have to take issue with your assessment of “That’s good advice“ with regard to the Biblical precept that “… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not by works.”

    I don’t think that faith or grace (whatever that is) have ever saved anybody. Good works, OTOH, have saved lots of people, usually the people on whose behalf they were performed, rather than the people performing them. Good works are their own reward; they don’t need some external validation — let alone from some invisible sky daddy — to still be good works.

    • Xuuths

      James 2:26 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

      • RichardSRussell

        I’m not sure how faith is supposed to be any good with or without works. It seems to me to be the same as X + 0 = X, where you can probably figure out what the stand-in for 0 is.

        • JohnH2

          That is because you have and insist only on using your own private definition of faith.

        • RichardSRussell

          Dream on, my son. That’s the definition you’ll find in the dictionary (“strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”). The people who are mucking with it are Christians who have a vested interest in people conflating it with worthier methods of decision-making, so as to make faith seem nobler than the ugly reality that it’s worthless if not outright harmful.

        • JohnH2

          Yes, exactly, your “dictionary” has only one definition of faith, as I guess you have blacked out the other ones. And that one is faulty as used by Christianity, and every other religion in the world. I suppose this is slightly better then your previous situation of actually having a definition of faith that wasn’t in the dictionary.

        • RichardSRussell

          No, actually, it has several other definitions, but that’s because dictionaries reflect common usage, and common usage has been corrupted by the Christian scam artists who, as noted above, are desperate to put faith in the best possible light by pointing to processes that they can CALL faith so as to make it easier to swallow the true version of it that THEY’RE peddling.

          If you aren’t happy with the dictionary definition, why not try the one offered up by Saint Paul: “… faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. … Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” —Hebrews 11:1, 3

          FWIW, you yourself are clearly attempting to continue the long (if not noble) tradition of Christian apologists hoping that nobody notices that faith — true faith, blind faith, not confidence or trust or reason — is the world’s worst decision-making technique. That probably makes you feel proud, instead of disgusted with yourself, as you should be.

        • JohnH2

          So ignore the way that actual believers use the word faith in favor of a particular interpretation of scripture which is contrary to what is said elsewhere in the Bible. and which fits your own preconceptions of the subject.

        • RichardSRussell

          You’re saying that “actual believers” (not part of my target audience, BTW) do not think that faith means “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”? Or my earlier definition, “belief in something despite the absence of evidence for it, and frequently in the face of evidence to the contrary”?

          Incidentally, for those who might have come in late, this is a continuation of a discussion begun with my earlier analysis of “How We Believe”, Part 1 and Part 2. I encourage you to visit those 2 pages and form your own conclusions about how to use the word faith.

          As an additional aside, I point to scientific findings about cholesterol. For a long time, people were warned to stay away from food products high in cholesterol, because it would make you fat and give you heart attacks. But that seemed to be true only fitfully and non-uniformly and sometimes not at all, so the scientists dug deeper. They discovered that cholesterol actually comes in 2 forms — high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) — and only the latter (the “bad cholesterol”) was responsible for health problems. In fact, the former (the “good cholesterol”) is actually good for you.

          In the current discussion, JohnH2 would have you believe that all definitions of faith, like all forms of cholesterol, are the same, and that it’s pointless to make fine-tuned distinctions between the various flavors of it. I, OTOH, think that precision of terminology is essential to a good understanding of decision-making methods, so I’m doing what I can to promote the same kinds of useful distinctions that have served us so well in the world of nutritional health.

        • The cholesterol comparison is helpful, thanks.

        • wtfwjtd

          That’s a well-done essay Richard, thanks for sharing. For my own understanding, maybe your essay could be “graphed” as follows:
          Physical ——–)Circumstantial——-)Conjecture
          evidence evidence

          (as a reflection of reality):

          High level of Confidence/ ————) Low level of Near Certainty confidence/Likelihood
          near zero

          I hope you can see what I’m trying to illustrate here, this format doesn’t lend itself well to this type of thing. Regardless, you’ve got some good stuff there.

        • RichardSRussell

          Thanks for the compliment, but now I’ve gotta ask what your screen name stands for.

        • wtfwjtd

          Ugh, I see that my post got mangled, and didn’t show up the way I had hoped. Oh well…
          Richard, you are intelligent enough to figure out the screen name without my help, but I’ll give you a little context. When I began looking around for some commentary on the subject of religion, a blogger named JT was one of the first people I found that talked about the subject in a way that actually made sense to me. So, I decided to post a comment or two here and there, and on a “spur of the moment” creation, I came up with the screen name. I meant for it to be a compliment, as clear thinking and good communication are two things I value very highly.
          But I digress…

        • RichardSRussell

          Oh, OK, I was wondering what Justin Timberlake had to do with it. I suppose you probably meant JT Eberhard, eh?

        • wtfwjtd

          Yep, JT Eberhard is the JT I was referring to. I understand he helps run an event in November called Skepticon, which will be held not too far from where I live here in Jesus-land. I believe I need to check it out, it looks very interesting.

        • RichardSRussell

          JT will also likely be back here in Madison next spring for Freethought Festival 3, which is a weekend’s worth of interesting speakers, conviviality, and minor purchasing opportunities on the beautiful University of Wisconsin campus, put on by the dynamic student group AHA! (Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics). You should come! It’ll be fun!

        • wtfwjtd

          Thanks for the info Richard, I’ll keep that in mind. I’ve never been to Wisconsin, it might make a nice little road trip.

        • At JT’s encouragement, I attended Skepticon in 2012. Good fun! I think it’s aimed at a younger crowd, but it’s worthwhile.

        • wtfwjtd

          That’s my impression also Bob, that would make sense as there’s more free thinkers in the younger age groups than ours. I enjoy JT’s “Dear Christian” stuff I’ve watched; it would really be a treat to meet some of you free-thinking bloggers in person!

        • Kodie

          You know, kind of. It is a nonsensical definition, by the way. You have the perception from faith that your faith makes any sense, is based on something actual, but that is your imagination, apparently to the rest of us. It’s called confirmation bias.

        • Richard: I could deal with this or that definition of “faith,” but I have no patience for the definition switching halfway through the conversation.

          Lately I’ve noticed a lot of “Oh, no–‘faith’ is a synonym of ‘trust.’ It’s totally evidenced based.” And then later in the conversation is the inevitable switcheroo where we’re making leaps based on insufficient evidence.

          Please, let’s have some consistency, people.

        • that one is faulty as used by Christianity

          Who died and left you Judge of all Christianity? Isn’t it a bit arrogant to declare to hundreds of millions of Christians that you’ve got it all figured out and they’re wrong? Sounds to me like one person telling another which make-believe world is actually the correct one.

        • JohnH2


          You have misunderstood what I mean. As used in the Bible and by at least Catholics, Orthodox, and Mormons as well as at least some mainline protestants faith doesn’t line up with that definition.

        • So you accept Heb. 11:1, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”? Show me how it is impossible to interpret this the way that Richard did. My version of that is: faith is belief based on insufficient evidence.

          If you want to say that you have your own interpretation and that you’re joined by many fellow Christians, that’s fine, but let’s make sure that (1) the Bible doesn’t contradict you, ever, and (2) you consistently use that single definition throughout this and all future conversations (no definition switcheroo).

        • Kodie

          I am definitely sure theists’ sense of faith is different than ours. I am not sure how to express this in words, but it is like a simple notion like “god is love” is intertwined into all their observations so that everything that we see looks different to them, comes with a lot of extra associations and presumptions. We are looking at the same thing but they are absorbing it through the filter of faith through the power of suggestion.

          If you and I are looking at some houses, we see different things about the same house. It might be the first thing you notice is that this house is red and the one next door to it is white. If you are an avid gardener, the first thing you might notice is how well it is landscaped or what unusual flowers they have or that the grass is too long. You might say that the next house looks like a great place to raise a family, and I think it looks like it’s making a scary face. Once I tell you about the face, you won’t be able to unsee it. You have to work really hard to see it as just what it is, two windows and a door, and to get back your first impression.

          Religion seems to mainly be about looking for things like the faces, or fingerprints of things that aren’t really there, and then insisting we don’t understand them because we can’t see these illusions like they persist in keeping them. If someone suggests they use this lens and then look around them again, they may be influenced to agree that all those things are really there. They don’t attempt to overpower the lens. It is the same with conspiracies and everything – once someone points out a pattern to you, whether it’s there or not, you may be inclined to respond, “now that you mention it…” and then start to look for all the “clues” you missed just living in your normal unadjusted world.

          The details may be real, after all, it is just more likely a gardener would notice the landscaping of a house and overlook what material the roof is made from. Before you got interested in gardening, you didn’t notice the landscaping either. Once you become ingrained in what to look for, you start noticing it everywhere.

          Now that is not to say that believers do notice some details that atheists overlook. It is just an analogy. But to them it is obvious as bad kerning is to a typographer. Once they are re-trained to look at everything like a god detective, they see his influence and presence in just about everything. They are not working with blind faith, believing in something that they can’t see. They are trained to look at everything differently than they did before and attribute the effects to an unseen deity.

          The problem then is, to them, that’s evidence.

    • Richard: I agree. That was tongue in cheek.

  • Ron

    Bible verses they never taught you in Sunday school:

    “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezek. 6:49)

    “Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” (Ezek. 23:19-20)

    “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.” (Deut. 30:11)

    “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” (Heb. 8:7)

  • Greg G.

    Ron beat me to Ezekiel 23 so I’ll add
    Ecclesiastes 10:19 (NIV)
    A feast is made for laughter,
        wine makes life merry,
        and money is the answer for everything

  • wtfwjtd

    Hi Bob, thanks for another thoughtful and informative post! You might check the link to the Jesus/Tebow video referenced at the end,and try this one instead:

  • So he actually puts those verses on there? Incredible.

    • No. That’s me having a little fun with photo tweaking.

      Aren’t all verses in the Good Book useful for teaching? Apparently not, because no one would dream of actually celebrating the verses that I used here. Except maybe Westboro Baptist.

  • Kodie

    How does he get the lettering so perfect? Is that another of his gifts from god?

    But seriously – he’s an example of someone who feels so insecure without god. He has a complex about his mother almost aborting him and all the personal success he would have missed, that he has to believe in god. He’s in love with his biography. I’m not totally sure but I don’t think he praises god for his touchdowns so much as he can’t believe he’s alive to get to be the one to carry the football into the opponent’s goal. If he had been aborted, all those footballs would never get to the end zone.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Everyone says Tebow is really religious, and yet here he is trying to get a job that would require him to work on the sabbath…

  • Ben

    That’s false. Exodus 22:29 refers to using the firstborns as servants at the place of worship and sacrifice of animals. Molech was the god of the Ammonite’s human baby sacrifice, Leviticus 20 explains. An act strictly prohibited. I like that you took the time to find biblical references regarding the Lord but get your facts and context first when you do. Otherwise you are not helping anyone. I’d refute and explain the other references you made, but somehow I don’t believe that will change your heart, Only the spirit of truth can do such things.

    • Exodus 22:29 refers to using the firstborns as servants at the place of worship and sacrifice of animals.

      Did you bother with the other quote I gave? They work together to rebut your claim.

      I like that you took the time to find biblical references regarding the Lord but get your facts and context first when you do.

      Yes, that’s good advice. And I have. If you disagree, I welcome your showing me the error.

      I don’t believe that will change your heart, Only the spirit of truth can do such things.

      So it works by magic? OK, whatever.

      If you can’t change my heart, perhaps you can still change my mind and get me to use these verses correctly. I await your critique.

  • rg57

    Looks shopped. It might be a good idea to include a disclaimer for those who don’t appreciate the humor.

    • You’re right about the image modification. He would never proclaim these verses, and that’s the point.

      You’re probably also right about the confusion. Poe’s Law in effect?